Norwich’s victory over Manchester City at the weekend was a shock, but the manner of their performance wasn’t: this is what Daniel Farke intended from the very start…
For a couple of days last summer, the Norwich top brass met to discuss how the previous season had gone. Manager Daniel Farke, sporting director Stewart Webber and a selection of others squirrelled themselves away for a pow-wow in a country hotel, at which it would have been entirely in step with the rest of the game had they decided that a change in manager was required.
After all, Norwich had finished 14th the previous season, not a result to convince anyone that Webber’s leap of faith in bringing Farke in had been justified. Discontent was growing in the stands, players were being sold: who would have been shocked had Norwich started again, and brought in a classic old ‘safe pair of hands’?
But they didn’t. According to those involved, there wasn’t really any significant chance that a change would be made, despite the moderate first term. “We knew we wouldn’t press a button and everything would work perfectly,” Farke said at the end of last season. “We were not over the moon last season but also not concerned at all.”
Perhaps this weekend will persuade a few more clubs to be a little more patient when considering a big decision. The way that Norwich beat Manchester City was obviously a shock in the wider scheme of things, but anyone who watched them in the Championship will have recognised something in their performance, that relentless pressing and sparky creativity. The result may have been a surprise, but the performance wasn’t.
Before he had taken charge of a game at Norwich, back in 2017, Farke gave an interview in which he explained how he wanted his team to play. “If you want a short answer, it’s about being dominant. I want our players to be protagonists on the pitch. I don’t like my teams just to be compact and to react, I like to act. I like to have the ball – if I could choose I would have the ball for 90 minutes. I want to create chances and dominate games.”
What’s striking about that is how closely those words applied to how Norwich played on Saturday. They tried to be as dominant as possible, they were proactive, they didn’t simply defend staunchly and hope City would not break through.
Which is not to say that trying to stifle City with a low block is not a valid and potentially successful way of playing: Newcastle did exactly that to them last season. It’s more that a team who takes Norwich’s approach are more in control of things. It’s a simultaneously a riskier and safer approach, because by definition you’re leaving yourself open to be picked apart, but at the same time you’re expanding the opportunities you have to score and actually have a positive impact on the game.
Plenty of emphasis will be on City and the mistakes they made, but many of those mistakes were forced, most obviously the rapacious press which resulted in Teemu Pukki’s strike to put Norwich 3-1 up, but they were doing exactly the same in the last minutes of the match.
Again, this is something familiar to longer-term watchers. Norwich last season were relentless until the last, keeping up their plan until the final dregs of injury-time slipped away. They scored about a third of their goals after the 75th minute of games: they scored multiple goals during injury-time twice, against Nottingham Forest and Millwall, turning two defeats into four points.
It’s all part of the plan. This was the plan that Farke laid out at the very beginning, and the plan that Webber and the club as a whole kept faith with last summer. A newly-promoted team beating Manchester City might ostensibly seem like one of those freak results that even the Premier League can throw up sometimes, but not in this case. This was a victory two years in the planning, and in many respects not a surprise at all.
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